Posted on March 31, 2013 by Eva Vadasz
This blog is about my school, the purpose and the aim of my sojourn in Kookooland (for English speakers, the title of my blog is zizilend meaning kookooland). Pardes (meaning “orchard”) is a yeshiva (Hebrew school) where Jews of all backgrounds and affiliations can study their religion, at any level. In this yeshiva, boys and girls study together. (This is extraordinary since traditionally, yeshivas were only for boys). Here there are boys who do not wear a kippah and girls who do. The leadership is Modern Orthodox. The teachers (mostly Americans) are generally consciously liberal and open-minded. Before the year started, I thought that in the breaks between classes, my future classmates would jump up on the desks and perform their feelings in a live version of High School Musical . Later I found out that I was wrong. My Zak Efrons would improvise songs from the bottoms of their hearts during class. Though I was right about the jumping on the desks.
You can be anybody coming from anywhere, the most important thing is that you want to study. In my year there are people who, before coming here, taught at Chabad (at the Lubavits as it is known in Hungary). There are people who had not lived a Jewish life at all before and also people wearing tzitzith and payot, there is a spiritual leader lady, there are converts, and there are those who wear a kippah and a skirt at the same time. Generally, the American students spend their gap year between BA and MA here, but many of them also stay or continue their studies in Rabbinical schools. Others plan to continue their lives after going home as they had planned to before, becoming hair dressers, biologists, or costume designers. Those who are not here for the gap year may be young Orthodox Jews, or those who were raised secular, or those who chose this school for very various reasons, e.g. one of my classmates is in Israel for the year to be close to his children and grandchildren living in Israel. Another classmate was unhappy with her profession and hopes to find her happiness in Judaism. Yet another one was a spiritual leader at home and wants to take it a step up. You can spend an insightful year here and study as much as you want. If you do not chose a Jewish profession, then you can live your Judaism simply deeper, with a basic or thorough knowledge, which is always a good thing to possess.
This school is a Jewish chance. If you wish, you go to daven in the morning, but if you do not want, then you don’t have to. If you want, you can make your schedule so that you only study from old books, but if you want, you can study several contemporary subjects, too. If you wish to live a religious life, you can simply do it here and if you ask questions, you can get wisdom. If you want to satisfy your intellectual hunger, go for it!
If you have already been to Limmud, the 5 day British impression flood experience, the seminar where every lecture is so super that you do not know which to choose and you can let yourself flow with the spiritual and intellectual orgasm, than you can know what to expect from Pardes — a whole year of Limmud.
In the beginning of the first semester it is not funny but extremely surprising that you actually must visit all classes like in elementary school.
You must be smart in finding a hevruta (learning partner) because you will spend a sizable amount of time with them. You can try working with everyone in your class at the beginning of the semester then choose the ones who you can study the best or the most effectively with. It is not the classic hevruta that I had been used to, meaning one is ahead of the other one in one subject and the other one is ahead in another subject, but it is more like in Yentl, where the two learning partners are on the same level. The difference is that you do not have to keep your orientation a secret if it happens to be complicated, because there is freedom here. All are here for the same reason as you. You spend the hevruta time in the library, the Bet Midrash (house of study). It is good if you understand that studying Torah is taken seriously here.
The timetable is rigid: all days start either with Talmud or Chumash. Out of the 3.5 hour morning class, 1 hour on average is hevruta time, though this depends on the teacher.
Between 12 and 1 you can chose what to study, from the weekly Torah portion to the Arab-Israeli conflict, anything. In this class there is no hevruta but if there is than your hevruta might be the one sitting next to you.
Between 1 and 2:30 there is a lunch break. During this time there is often guest speakers, lecturers, meetings and other epicureanisms, like a yoga class.
In the afternoon you can study more traditional Judaism but also social subjects, or even calligraphy in the evenings.
One afternoon can last until 8. Mondays there is night seder where you can study some more with a hevruta of your own choosing. This is a very popular event even if it is extremely tiring because it is late in the evening.
All students have a counselor teacher. This is a very interesting institution, or more than interesting, kind of American. I had been warned beforehand that in Pardes you are not allowed to walk barefoot. But this is not always followed by the students! You see what I mean by interesting. You can not eat in the library but you can drink (Yes, we are in Israel.) Also in class. Even hot food.
You can learn about programs in and outside of school at a yahoogroup. There is a white board on the wall in school, but the time the most information is exchanged is during the so-called “announcements,” during Community Lunch on Thursday.
During the year you can go for a number of outings and one day trips, depending on what tracks you chose.
There is no Hebrew language teaching in Pardes. If you want to spend a year in “real Israel,” do not choose this school as it is an American bubble in Jerusalem. Or study Hebrew well beforehand.
I have not met a single person in Jerusalem who has not participated at least at one lecture at Pardes. This school is extremely popular maybe because of its open-mindedness, or maybe because its colorful programs. The Pardes from Jerusalem podcast about the Weekly Torah portions is the second-most popular Jewish podcast in the world.
Pardes was established in 1972. Its logo is a pomegranate spitting Hebrew letters. In the holy Jerusalem reality, Pardes is located on a road like Rákóczi in Budapest but without the tall buildings, on the third floor of a Mazda dealership. At the first sight the vinyl floor covering, the few classrooms, and the small library can be surprising, since you may have expected some elegancy upon its super reputation. You can smell cooking all-over the school because the kitchen is in the same space as the classrooms. There is a water machine, and one cup of coffee or tea costs 1 nis. The money collector is a volunteer, luckily not me, since I already started cleaning the coffee station well beforehand. The view from the Bet Midrash to Jerusalem in dusk is priceless.
There is something in the Jerusalem air, filled with people’s prayers for thousands of years. It is hard to return to your old life and to try keeping kosher, or Shabbat, or to just be a Jew whose Judaism consists of more than Holocaust fatigue. I guess.
I could have done all this at my Jewish High school Masoret Avot in Budapest, or in Beth Yaakov in Montreal, but in those places, I felt my freedom was limited. I more wanted to be a punk or a hippie. I was asked to go daven in the mornings and was promised to get a candy for it. And when I did not go, I felt like a punk and hippie simultaneously because of it. In the mornings, I went for walks with my classmates instead, and we spat the cover of sunflower seeds to the pigeons or went to the McDonalds, which was thought to be the place of the biggest sin.
Now I get up at 6:30 so I can arrive in time for davening, because there I find peace and I love getting lost in the labyrinth of prayers. And I do not start talking with the girls upon arriving, but instead look forward to the possibility of getting to read from the Torah.
The bottom line is that here it’s not that I know but that I want to study. Not my free associations, but my questions and their quality are important. I have not met such an attitude in education before. At home, it was not important whether I studied or not, but my marks were important in any school I had attended, which is quite a large number. I used to be a very good student, and I was embarrassed because I was not studious but smart. But here since there are no marks, my attitude is what counts, how I perform in classes and therefore every minute requires attention. This is why I came here.
In the mornings when I ride my bike to Pardes, I am eager to know what I will learn during the day. And this is how it has been since September.
And then when I arrive in school, I throw myself on a bench and sing about it from the bottom of my heart.